According to many so-called writing experts, using passive voice is a bad practice.
Of course, according to the same writing experts, much of what you and I say every day are bad practices. The thing is, if you understand me and I understand you, then how bad can these practices be? They are not bad practices but they still really piss off some people, also known as the writing experts.
I don’t even like calling them “writing experts” as that gives them some implied authority and dignity. I would refer to them as “grammar Nazis” but the Internet has taken all the fun out of calling somebody a Nazi. Writers, bloggers and run-of-the-mill idiots with a comment field use it to describe anyone who disagrees with them. It has less punch, but I have chosen to call them “grammar fascists.” Either way, you get the idea.
Whatever we choose to call them, grammar fascists are people who enjoy nothing more than taking every opportunity to point out our spelling, grammar, and word usage errors. They do this, not to make the world a better place, but as an act of revenge. I can assure you that grammar fascists were beaten up during every recess. Quite probably as a result of being little grammar school fascists. They now see it as their mission in life to silence the rest of us through the use of their metaphorical and literal red pens. Most of us have gotten over whatever physical abuse we experienced in school, but how many of us have gotten over our fear of red pens?
Which brings me back to the use of passive voice. Grammar fascists are particularly fond of pointing out each example of passive voice. Allegedly, this is because active voice is, by their telling, more engaging, more concise, and more readable. One needs to ask oneself, who decreed that the goal of all communication was to be clear and concise? Sometimes obfuscation is the goal of a communication. Or once again, to make my point, the goal of communication is sometimes obfuscation. When a politician inadvertently communicates clearly it scares the crap out of us. Personally, I get scared when I only understand a piece of what they say. We should not undervalue the ability of ignorance to produce bliss.
The classic example of passive voice is the sentence “Mistakes were made.” Or should I say, “Mistakes were made” is the classic example sentence of passive voice? According to grammar fascists, sentences like this are used by business people to both confuse responsibility and avoid placing blame. Apparently, the grammar fascists think this is a bad thing. This is because grammar fascists have never worked for a profitable business. At least not past their first performance review. First-line managers do not take kindly to having their memos returned with corrections marked in red.
The truth is that all publicly traded businesses become and remain profitable to the extent they can confuse responsibility and avoid blame. Similarly, all candidates for elected office get elected only through careful avoidance of clear communications. On the global stage, without passive voice, communications between nations would not be possible. Diplomacy would not exist although some would argue it is not working too well even with the aid of passive voice.
Passive voice to adults is what nursery rhymes are to small children. They allow us to paint a happy picture of the world that is actually full of bad things happening to good people. The longer we can put off seeing reality for what it is, the better.
If we were to follow in the missteps of the grammar fascists, we would never say “mistakes were made.” In its place, we would say something like “The culprit made a mistake.” This is not only in active voice but labels the anonymous individual as a “culprit.” This is another sure sign that there is a grammar fascist involved. Grammar fascists don’t just like to correct our grammar. They like to use words like culprit, or miscreant or malefactor. This is because grammar fascists are not only fascists, they are pedantic. This is particularly true when they use words like “pedantic.”
Grammar fascists, like all fascists, must be overthrown. They will never willingly disarm and hand over their red pens. Decisive action must be taken by us. As for me, the following pledge was made by me.
- I promise to boldly walk into rooms with modifiers dangling.
- Because I am an independent thinker, I refuse to be subordinate to any clause.
- Striving to always use passive voice will be done by me.
- And don’t get me started on participles. I am so past participles.
“Chains and nothing else will be lost by the proletariat.” – passive Karl Marx